Cardinals’ injuries taking a toll with elimination near

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In some ways, the Cardinals are better off than most. They don’t lose much at first base with Matt Adams filling in for Allen Craig, and they’re still fine in the ninth since Trevor Rosenthal replaced the sore-shouldered Edward Mujica in the closer’s role. But the truth is that both injuries played huge roles in Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Pirates.

With Adams filling in for Craig, here’s the Cardinals’ current bench: Adron Chambers, Tony Cruz, Daniel Descalso/Pete Kozma, Shane Robinson and Kolten Wong. There isn’t even one decent pinch-hitting option there. Wong, a rookie second baseman, is the talent in the bunch, but he hit just .153 in 59 at-bats after arriving in the majors. The Cardinals are down enough on him that he was left on the bench while both Kozma and Descalso hit against Jason Grilli in the ninth today.

Chambers is in the roster spot that would have gone to Craig. He went 4-for-26 in the majors this year.

And, of course, while Adams is probably a better hitter than Craig against righties, he was a far lesser option today against Francisco Liriano. He’s also the weaker defender, which played a role in Kozma’s throwing error in the two-run first inning today.

As for Mujica, well, he’s on the roster and available, but the Cardinals don’t trust him right now. That’s why Rosenthal wasn’t out there in a tie game in the eighth when the Pirates scored two runs today. That almost certainly would have been Rosenthal’s assignment a few weeks ago. Since he’s now the closer, he was held in reserve.

The Cardinals are also going it without Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Jason Motte and Rafael Furcal, but those are injuries from several months ago. Had they known they’d be without Craig, they probably would have brought in some bench help prior to Aug. 31.

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉